Turkey has temporarily suspended more than 9,000 personnel from the country’s police force while they are investigated for suspected links to US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, the country’s state-run news agency said.
Anadolu Agency said that police personnel were removed from duty on Wednesday, hours after Turkey launched nationwide operations, detaining more than a thousand people with alleged ties to Gulen’s movement which Turkey blames for orchestrating a failed coup in July.
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The operation was launched in all of Turkey’s 81 provinces and targeted the network’s structure in the police force.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu described the arrests as an “important step” towards the government’s aim at “bringing down” the Gulen movement.
The operations were carried out as part of a probe led by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, Anadolou Agency reported, adding that a nationwide hunt for more suspects continued.
Authorities have arrested more than 47,000 people since the failed coup, Turkey’s interior minister said, including some 10,700 police officers and 7,400 military personnel, and sacked or suspended 120,000 others from a wide range of professions including soldiers, police, teachers and public servants, over alleged links with what Turkey’s government deems to be terrorist groups.
The latest arrests come ten days after a tightly contested referendum approved the expansion of presidential powers, according to preliminary results.
The referendum bitterly divided Turkey. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan argues that strengthening the presidency will avert instability associated with coalition governments, at a time when Turkey also faces security threats from armed groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) and the Kurdish PKK.
But his critics fear a drift into authoritarianism, with a leader they see as bent on eroding modern Turkey’s democracy and creating one-man rule.
Mass detentions immediately after the attempted coup were supported by many Turks, who agreed with Erdogan when he blamed Gulen for orchestrating the coup, which killed at least 240 people, mostly civilians. But criticism mounted as the arrests widened.
Gulen has denied orchestrating the coup attempt.